Motherland: Six Homegrown Stories of Maternal Love


Photography by Patrick Diokno
Styling by Neal Corpus
Words by Cedric S. Reyes

In celebration of Mother’s Day, family and friends of the Bench Blog tell us why some moments with mom mean the world to them.

In keeping with the grand tradition of Mother’s Day, Bench Blog sat down with six of Manila’s most exciting creatives and their own moms to ask them about the big effects of maternal love, and their plans for Mother’s Day. Among their ranks are Bench’s very own Nielli Martinez and Martin Yambao, managing director for Benchmark. For Mother’s Day this year, we’ve kept it all in the family.

Yayo and Nielli Martinez

Most people have group chats with friends for letting off steam, but Nielli Martinez, Ad girl for Bench, has her mom. “I always make kwento everything to her, she’s used to it na,” Nielli confides. Whether it’s over hot bowls of sinigang at their dining table, or on the Viber thread they share with Nielli’s siblings, Yayo always makes it a point to catch up with her youngest daughter.

A portrayal of the classic Filipina mom, Yayo is resourceful when it comes to supporting her kids. “She was always very hands-on,” Nielli shares, listing all the things her mom did personally. Between tapings for work, Yayo managed to prepare baon, drive her kids to school, and even braid up their hair, everyday.

Though she doesn’t see her mom as often as she used to, Nielli still runs home to her mom in times of challenges. Nielli is used to receiving her mom’s comforting, “kaya mo yan,” and when that won’t cut it, there’s always her mom’s sinigang.

Judy and Tom Bucag

When Tom Bucag’s mom saw his illustrations for the first time, they were on the pages of a major broadsheet. Judy was just as surprised as the rest of the world. It wasn’t much earlier that Tom discovered his unique eye for illustrating, either. Tom first tried his hand at drawing while studying Biology in college, when he was already living with his dad and siblings, away from his mom.

For six days a week, Tom works on illustrations for various publications and personal commissions. Sunday is his day-off, the day he dedicates to being with his mom. “My mom and dad separated when I was nine, so we only see each other once a week.” On Sundays, Tom replaces his pen and paper with pans and oven mitts. “We stay in on Sundays, and I prepare our meals. Tom usually helps with desserts,” admits Judy.

Even though he didn’t become a doctor like his family expected, Tom still draws infinite support from his mom. Judy still doesn’t have the right words to describe Tom’s talents, but whether he’s working on a canvas or in the kitchen, she knows it will be very good.


Leng and Reese Lansangan

Reese Lansangan has over 21,000 Twitter followers, but none of them read her tweets as closely as her mom does. “She’ll Google, ‘Reese Lansangan Twitter,’” shares the musician about her mom Leng. With Reese’s packed schedule, it becomes hard to keep track of all the places she’s travelling to. Reese’s Twitter updates put her mom at ease and bring her daughter a little closer to home.

Recently, Reese has been promoting her latest album, Of Sound Mind & Memory, taking her down to the south and as far north as Baguio. Music had always been important to Reese, who picked up her talents from the dad she lost in her childhood. “My mom’s a widow – we lost our dad when I was 9 and my sister was 4.” Still, Mommy Leng insisted on keeping the music alive in their household, taking Reese to music classes to hone her natural skills. “I owe all of what I have to her,” Reese says about her mom and her biggest follower to date.

Lola Sylvia and Martin Yambao

“You’re the mother of mothers,” Martin Yambao, managing director of Benchmark, reminds Owa Sylvia. His grandmother has just told him, in her no-nonsense manner, that she’s not even his mom. Martin doesn’t seem to mind at all.

Sylvia is Martin’s sharp-tongued, elegant “Owa” – a nickname given to her by Martin’s older sister in a failed attempt to pronounce lola, and it has stuck ever since. She’s earned quite a following for herself on Martin’s Instagram, where her videos are tagged simply, #SYLVIA. “Martin is my favorite apo,” she boldly declares, “because I can yell at him.”

According to her, Martin practically grew up with his Owa, where he spent his childhood reading books and eating half of her kitchen. Owa says that Martin has always had what it takes to be a writer. He inherited his grandmother’s talents, after all. “I also used to write,” she begins, but Martin interrupts her. “Allegedly,” he says, clearly full of admiration for his Owa, years after he’s moved out of her home.

Jamie and Apa Agbayani

True to artist form, Apa Agbayani, writer and director, has no shortage of mood swings. At least that’s what his mom, Jamie, thinks. But that’s about as far as she’ll go with criticizing her son, for whom she has the highest of praises. Generous, independent, and intelligent are just some of the things that Mommy Jamie will say about her eldest son, who’s embarrassed, but grateful.
Apa, who admits to being quiet, expresses his affection by sharing his favorite films with his mom. These movies have to go through a quick selection process – only the ones with happy endings. “I made her watch In The Mood For Love, because it’s one of my favorite films. She was like, “Why didn’t they end up together?” According to Apa, watching movies with his mom lets her in on what he’s passionate about. Mommy Jamie seems more than welcome in Apa’s creative world, and she plans to stick around.

Teng and Nanette, Moms of Gab and Thea

When Gab Bustos, chef and one half of The Girl and The Bull, decided to drop out of college, he wrote a letter to his mom saying that he was no longer happy in school. While it wasn’t one of Mommy Teng’s happiest moments, she carries around her son’s letter with her to this day. “It was such a beautiful letter. Everyday, dala-dala ko yan. He told me he’ll be able to connect the dots. He’ll make me proud. That was his truth at that moment,” Mommy Teng confides. She didn’t know yet, but it would take a girl to connect the dots for Gab.

Thea de Rivera, the other half of The Girl and The Bull, is the only way to complete the picture, and her mom Nanette agrees. “We like Gab for Thea. They’re good for each other,” she says of the duo, who have come into their own since confused college days. According to Thea, the support that she got from her mom was the trust that she gave her daughter and Gab, considering the long hours that they spent together. With love overflowing from both sides, it’s exciting to see how much further Thea and Gab will go. It helps that Mommy Teng and Mommy Nanette get along quite well, too.

Yayo and Nielli Martinez
On NiellI: Top from American Eagle Outfitters, jacket from Bench
On Yayo: Top from Vero Moda, earrings from Aldo
Judy and Tom Bucag
On Tom: Shirt and jacket from Bench
On Mom: Top from Kashieca, necklace from Aldo
Leng and Reese Lansangan
On Reese: Top from Bench, vest from Kashieca
On Mom: Top from Kashieca
Lola Sylvia and Martin Yambao
On Martin: Button-down from Bench
On Sylvia: Earrings from Aldo
Jamie and Apa Agbayani
On Apa: Shirt from Bench
On Mom: Button-down from American Eagle Outfitters, cardigan from Vero Moda
Teng and Nanette, Moms of Gab and Thea
On Thea: Shirt dress from Kashieca
On Thea’s mom: Button-down from American Eagle Outfitters, jacket from Rafé x Bench
On Gab: Button-down from American Eagle Outfitters
On Gab’s mom: Top from Vero Moda
BENCH MEETS: Dog Days with Andre Drilon
Bench/Beats: Sunkissed